Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Guernsey Tomato Museum

By some distance the least impressive museum I have ever visited is the Tomato Museum on the island of Guernsey (mind you I haven’t yet been to Barometer World in Okehampton but some day, just you mark my words, I will).

I think I was about fourteen when we went, so you can imagine the impression a tomato-based attraction would have made on my adolescent mind. That’s right, none whatsoever. I don’t even like tomatoes. Nonetheless I found myself unaccountably reminded of it yesterday, as dusk settled sadly on Bristol’s GMT-darkened commute.

How to describe? I could mention the feebleness of the displays, the battered, uninformative signs purporting to enlighten the public on the practicalities of tomato-growing, the general dirt, the ill-kept greenhouses. The inadequate refreshment area. The toilets. The random additional attractions, including a plastic Wendy House shaped like a big shoe and a ragged huddle of obsolete arcade machines.

But merely listing these things cannot capture the feel of the place. So try to imagine, if you will, that you are a bright tomato-red balloon blown up for a jolly party, but the party is over, the marquee is packed away, the empty bottles are stacked and reeking, and you have been left to wrinkle and deflate in the rubble-strewn car park. And it’s raining, and there will be no more parties ever again. That is the Guernsey Tomato Museum.

When Brit Jnr is a bit older I will of course take her to fun places such as Alton Towers and Disneyland and whatnot, but I think I should also insist on a visit to the Guernsey Tomato Museum, if it still exists.

“Life isn’t just Disneyland and Alton Towers”, I will tell her. “Look around you, Brit Jnr. Look around you and absorb this and think on it. This too is real. This too is life.”

“Can I have a pound for the machines?” she will say.

25 comments:

Brit said...

PS. While googling for the museum (it doesn't seem to have a website), I found that someone at (or at least contributing to) the BBC has a sense of humour:

Guernsey has some of the most enthralling museums in the Northern Hemisphere: if the thrills and spills of the Guernsey Tomato Museum are too much, then the visitor need only visit the hardly-less-exciting Telephone Museum. Then for the hardened adrenaline junkie there is always Len Dorey's Farm Implements Museum...

Recusant said...

Bloody hell, this is getting a bit circular: commenting on your own blog!

You've been reading too much of The 'Yard's latest output, no doubt.

Brit said...

More of an appendix than a comment, Recusant. I didn't want to spoil the perfect symmetry of the post by putting it in there.

You can start worrying about me when I start arguing with my own posts (and I've been tempted, believe me).

malty said...

'Ere Brit, leave the humble tomato alone, where would the Italians be without them, their country would disintegrate.
For the ultimate treat, museum wise, for kids this takes some beating. Costs an absolute fortune, as you can imagine.

Gaw said...

Cadbury World, however, is a great disappointment.

Brit said...

...but it is enlivened by the baffling and incongruous 'ride', Gaw. With all the dancing singing cocoa beans etc.

jonathan law said...

As a cash-strapped parent of young kids you tend to become a connoisseur of these places -- the impossibly mournful tourist 'attractions' that owe their whole existence to the spirit-sapping vagaries of the Great British Climate.(You know, it’s autumn half-term in the deep navel of nowhere, it’s rained for three days nonstop, and you just have to get them OUT OF THE HOUSE.)

Could I perhaps recommend the Bakelite Museum at Williton, Somerset? This is not only "Britain’s foremost collection of vintage plastic", but also "includes a colourful display of bowls and vases made from Bandalasta (also known as LingaLonga), a coloured, marbled variation of Bakelite which first saw light in 1925"). And if your appetite for old brown radios remains unslaked, don’t forget the nearby Wireless Museum in the old transmitting station – itself an Art Deco concrete horror – at Washford Cross. Or, if you’re at the other end of the country, there’s always the infamous Pencil Museum in Keswick – if nothing else you’ll get an insight into what Wordsworth was banging on about in those strange lines about the power of "visionary dreariness".

Peter Burnet said...

Still, a visit to one of these silly obscure museums can be serendipitous if one is lucky enough to visit when no one else is there and fall into the clutches of a curator who is both craving an audience and passionate about the subject. Generally retired volunteers, they can be bottomless knowledge pits and fonts of quirky tales, and you leave (if they'll let you get away)thinking: "I just met the one person on this planet who has dedicated her entire life to tomatoes. Imagine if I had died and never known all this stuff." I suppose it's a bit like meeting a retired leisure centre manager with the wisdom of Solomon.

Brit said...

Mrs B visited the Pencil Museum as a child, Jonathan. She recalls there being a very big pencil on show and also, she thinks but isn't totally sure, a very big eraser.

Gaw said...

May I make a suggestion to cash-strapped parents? A visit to an ossuary has the virtue of being free and is certain to stimulate the interest and imagination of all children. There's one here, and another in Northampton I believe.

Peter Burnet said...

Brit, if Charlotte whines about being forced to visit the tomato museum, you can always tell her sternly that if she doesn't behave, she may be surprised where you might take her on the next family vacation.

Matt said...

Typical Brit attitude towards food, poised somewhere between fear and vaudeville. Has anyone here actually eaten a tomato? I mean a raw one. One with, y'know, flavor. Or, if you insist, flavour. (It's of interest to note that my computer believes that 'flavour' is a misspelling, and suggests 'flatworm' as a substitute.)

malty said...

Gaw, call that a bone collection, pop down the Paris catacomb's, now that is a full set, odd place, the exit comes out in a sort of small shop. Brit, if that was the Cumberland Pencil Museum, yes there was a whopper, can't recall an eraser.
Lake Derwent, though, was always full of rubbers

Outa_Spaceman said...

I'm genuinely tempted to visit Barometer World..
Thanks for the tip..

jonathan law said...

Somehow forgot the unforgettable Gnome Reserve, inland from Bideford, North Devon ("Come and see the UK's best collection of antique gnomes!"). They lend you a pointy hat and fishing rod on the way in "so as not to embarrass" the inhabitants. Plain weird this one: I believe some joker actually nominated the proprietors for the Turner prize.

Brit said...

Matt - of all the cliches about Britons, the food one is the most outdated. In the last 20 years the middle class somehow turned from a nation of British-Rail-thin-ham-sandwich-munchers to probably the most obsessive food fetishists on the planet.

British TV is basically food and antiques, with some other bits thrown in occasionally.

Matt said...

Fair enough, Brit-- although the memory of the spaghetti al soupe I was once served in a London restaurant still lingers.

malty said...

Agree with Brit about food Matt, why a visit to any Ikea cafeteria for a meatball lunch will give you a taste of Britain's new international cuisine.

malty said...

Small museums would appear to exist because of the dedication of a small number of enthusiasts, some would say bordering on the worryingly obsessive.

What do we think then of someone who's lifelong quest is the accumulation of lens serial numbers, makes trainspotting seem entirely rational.

martpol said...

There is an odd disconnect, isn't there, between what children actually want to do on holiday and where their parents drag them. We used to spend a week in Cornwall every year, and beaches and theme parks would inexplicably (and I do mean that - no explanation was sought, or offered) be defeated by National Trust yawn-houses and enormous manicured gardens. I have a feeling that something is supposed to change in middle age and all this stuff will suddenly become clear to me, but right now, I still mourn for my lost youth.

worm said...

this post made laugh out loud!!! Although I have actually now realised that I have never been to a really truly crap museum because my parents never took me anywhere.

スタービーチ said...

一時代を築いたスタービーチは閉鎖になりましたが、もう一度楽しい思いをしたい、もう一度出会いたいと思う有志により再度復活しました。本家以上に簡単に出会えて楽しい思いを約束します

pm137 said...

In case any of you were curious and wanted a visit, I believe the tomato museum closed in 1989. And worse still, the telephone museum saw its last visitors a few months ago.

You should have seen the uproar in the Guernsey Press when that one was annonced!

Anonymous said...

I guess you wouldnt be suprised if i said it was abandoned now, has been for years. They left everything inside to rot so its pretty creepy now.

SLM said...

I live here, I remember that "Musuem" all too well - a jewel in the crown has been overlooked. www.nationaltrust-gsy.org.gg is the only place to go. Hand built down to the last detail. Stunning.